Monday, June 15, 2020

 Okay, so it’s a new week, I’ve got a bunch of Actual Paying Work to get done by tomorrow and, not going to lie, I’m really not in the mood for this. Don’t worry about it too much, it’s just one of those days. Anyhow, let’s get to it.

 You know, let’s start with some actual good news for a change. In a rather pleasant surprise, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled 6-3 that the 1964 Civil Rights act included sexual orientation and gender identity as part of the overall prohibition of sex discrimination. Basically, federal law prohibits discrimination in the workplace and protects gay, lesbian and transgender employees from being disciplined, fired or turned down for a job based on their sexual orientation.

 LGBT rights advocates figured they’d have a tough row to hoe on this one, given the political make-up of the court, but Chief Justice John Roberts and Trump appointee Neil Gorsuch joined with the more liberal justices, arguing that even if the 1964 court didn’t specifically mean sexual orientation and gender identity, it covered it anyway. Roberts, a fairly contentious Bush appointee, has shown himself a bit of a wild card but Gorsuch was the real shocker. It’s probably way too early to consider him another Earl Warren, especially when corporate or labor disputes come up, but this ruling is a little bit of sunshine.

 On the flipside, the Court completely failed to read the room and flat-out refused to hear a number of cases that would address police officers’ near immunity to charges of police brutality. Three weeks after the murder of George Floyd by a Minneapolis police officer while three other cops looked on and with the country still in unrest over continued police brutality and the lack of accountability by the legal system, the Court turned away more than a dozen lawsuits related to qualified immunity.

 In a nutshell, qualified immunity is a legal doctrine that lets police officers escape accountability for using tactics that haven’t been expressly banned in prior court decisions even if they clearly violate Constitutional rights. Even when they violate those rights and everyone knows they did, they’re often not held liable because the right they violated wasn’t clearly established by the courts at the time.

 The Supreme Court rarely explains why they do what they do, and it’s a hell of a time to dodge this particular bullet, given not only the unrest across the country but also the shift in public opinion when it comes to holding law enforcement accountable. This is obviously a bone of contention across the land, since they ducked a baker’s dozen cases that dealt specifically with qualified immunity. But the cases can come up again next year.

 A young man named Rayshard Brooks was shot in the back by an Atlanta police officer Friday night. The facts as we know them. Brooks was accosted sleeping in his car at a Wendy’s by cops called by the store management. Apparently, his girlfriend dropped him off there drunk and he was sleeping it off before walking to his mother’s graveside. Cops were called and the scene escalated because apparently that’s all cops can do with black folks, and Brooks took off running after apparently snatching a stun gun, the officers claim.

 Security video from the store shows Brooks turning around and believing a weapon was being pointed at him, Officer Garrett Rolfe unloaded three shots into his back. Brooks was dead before the ambulance could get him to the hospital. The Fulton County Medical Examiner’s Office ruled the shooting a homicide. People at the scene disputed the original official story that Brooks had a taser and an on-going investigation by the Georgia Bureau of Investigation is calling the account into question as well. 

 In any event, the shooting had massive repercussions throughout the city. The already on-going protests against police brutality had a stronger local focus and have just intensified. The Wendy’s itself was burned down, but there’s video evidence of a white woman either trying to start the blaze or exacerbate it, lending more credence to the idea that the riots and destruction among these protests are caused more by outside agitators of some kind.

The cop Rolfe has been fired and a second officer involved in the encounter, Devin Brosnan, has been placed on administrative duty. We’re told 19 police officers have resigned from the force and morale is at an all-time low. Finally, Police Chief Erika Shields resigned fairly suddenly over the whole business. Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms has announced the city will enact reforms to the police department in the wake of the shooting. I used to live in Athens near Atlanta and while I never had problems with the cops, I wouldn’t want to be a black person in that town and deal with the law, is all I’m saying.

 Finally, the families of two black men found hanging from trees in Southern California are trying to get the authorities to do some more investigation into their deaths. Malcolm Harsch, 38, was found May 31 around 7 a.m. near a homeless camp in Victorville and Robert L. Fuller, 24, was found 10 days later around 3:39 a.m. near the Palmdale City Hall, about 50 miles away.

 In both cases, the coroners labeled the hanging suicides and in both cases the families dispute the findings. The problem for both is that they feel the officials’ decisions were made in haste and insufficient investigation was done by the police and medical examiner. There is no “type” for suicide and you can’t tell who would do that. Way too often it comes as a complete shock to the loved ones and closest friends.

 That being said, the families are trying to get more done and feel that the city governments aren’t taking the hangings – both which occurred outside away from the respective domiciles – as seriously as they would a white person. We’ll keep an eye on this, but there really is no good answer.

 And that’s that. Time to walk Otis and get on that APW. It’s a new week, God help us all.


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